from Guy Debord

To Jaime Semprun
14 April 1986
Dear Jaime:

Of course, it would be a much smaller misfortune to publish later in the month, and even in the following month, than to publish something slightly inferior to what the demanding clientele of the Encyclopedia now expects and that others fear. Nevertheless, I hope that you will be successful in the exploit.

You have spoken to me of a confusion of [Roland] Barthes on a classic subject, at the very time at which he was still not capable of what one has since seen -- or, rather, only heard about (fortunately!). By an almost surrealistic coincidence, last week Nicolas [Lebovici] showed me a text from Mythologies upon which he must, alas, comment in preparation for his baccalaureate. He asked me about the meaning of the last paragraph.[1] It did not have any. Reading Mythologies in 1957, I found a certain humor in it and I did not remember that were such shit-talking passages in it. I suppose that at present the university prefers to find in this old book that which would better announce the "real" Barthes, who soon after encounters Structure! The amusing detail is that in that particular passage, Barthes speaks of astrology, which he considers to be the thought of the "petite bourgeois" (no doubt the average academics, artisans and bookstores that were still so numerous in the 1950s), a thought that is probably opposed to the proletarian thought of the voters for the P.C.F.[2] or to the big bourgeois thought of our suddenly launched (by bluff or chance) stateless Atlanticists, who hold that the spirit of all literature is nominalist. Can you think of an example? In the terms of the Quarrel of the Universals,[3] the use of which the pedant finds it opportune to simulate, the spirit of literature would obviously be realist, holding the novel as a reality as actual as the world that it claims to show, and the concept of "fruit" to be a being as actually real as the "apple" or the "grape." It is quite simply because the term "realist" has taken on a completely contrary meaning for the journalists of today (and so they think that "nominalist" would be scholarly), that Barthes can tangle his feet in his carpet stolen from the supermarket, and reveal once more that he has nothing to say.

Is it too late[4] for Abidjan? One could try out a model of the very elliptical genre, such as this:

Abidjan, capital of the Republic of the Ivory Coast: 921,000 inhabitants according to the 1979 census. For a century, it was a small town called Grand Bassam, the residence of the colonial governor. Today it is one of the most modern towns in Africa. The same architecture of premature junk that the Europeans have constructed for the last thirty years in Europe expresses the pride of the new indigenous ruling class. The natives, proletarianized and chased from the land that they cultivated, have accumulated -- here as elsewhere -- in immense shantytowns. The Port of Abidjan exports cocoa, coffee, bananas, round wood, gold, diamonds and manganese for the worldwide market; there is also the beginnings of the production of native textiles. It imports -- mostly from France -- manufactured articles, agribusiness technology and products that the country needs to make it modern and to eat.

In the next few days, I will send the article entitled Abolition. The text will be quite long.

Best wishes,

[1] Translator's note: as translated by Annette Lavers (New York: 1972): "The fact that we cannot manage to achieve more than an unstable grasp of reality doubtless gives the measure of our present alienation: we constantly drift between the object and its demystification, powerless to render its wholeness. For if we penetrate the object, we liberate it but we destroy it; and if we acknowledge its full weight, we respect it, but we restore it to a state which is still mystified. It would seem that we are condemned for some time yet always to speak excessively about reality. This is probably because ideologism and its opposite are types of behavior which are still magical, terrorized, blinded and fascinated by the split in the social world. And yet, this is what we must seek: a reconciliation between reality and men, between description and explanation, between object and knowledge."

[2] Translator's note: the French Communist Party.

[3] Translator's note: Disagreement among medieval scholastics concerning words and things.

[4] Translator's note: for inclusion in the Encyclopedia of Nuisances, which published articles in alphabetical order.

(Published in Guy Debord Correspondance, Vol 6: Janvier 1979-Decembre 1987 by Librairie Artheme Fayard, 2006. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! June 2007.)

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